Options for higher education

Choosing your options

Want to know how you can continue to study chemistry and be better qualified to enter the workforce? A higher education qualification is a step up from Scottish Highers, A-levels, BTECs or equivalents. They are usually completed at a university or a higher education institution like a college.

A bachelor’s degree is the most well-known higher education qualification, but there are also other qualifications available in the form of certificates, diplomas and foundation degrees. These other types of qualifications prepare you well for a technical role in chemical science, as well as potentially being a stepping-stone to a bachelor’s degree and beyond. 

Whichever route you choose, a higher education qualification is useful for a career in chemistry. You will be more employable and will develop the skills that can make a difference to society’s biggest challenges. The downloadable booklets on the right contain more information about how a chemistry qualification can help with your future plans.

It is important that you take time to think about what would suit you and your plans best. The option you choose might depend on:

  • how you prefer to learn
  • how you prefer to be assessed
  • what your future plans are

You may also wish to consider a higher or degree apprenticeship where you will be employed in a real job and which includes formal learning. Find out more about apprenticeships and the different types available.

Your options for higher education qualifications

Higher National Certificate (HNC)

An HNC in chemistry will build your understanding of chemical science and develop your lab practice and experience of scientific techniques and equipment. It is a level 4 qualification, or level 7 in the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF).

Length of study

It takes one year of full-time study to complete, or two years part-time.

Entry requirements

To apply you will normally need two Scottish Highers, or one A-level, BTEC or equivalent.

What next?

With a level 4 qualification, or SCQF level 7, you can go straight into the workforce or on to further study for an HND or degree. Courses in Scotland are often designed with progression to degree level study in mind. With an HNC in chemistry you can enter applied and technical roles such as chemical technician or junior analyst. These types of roles can be generalised, where you could work across a range of projects or departments, or you could become a specialist in a particular technique, process, or piece of equipment.

Higher National Diploma (HND)

An HND in chemistry is equivalent to the second year of a bachelor’s degree, making it a level 5 qualification, or in Scotland, a level 8. It will develop your skills and knowledge in the main areas of chemistry (organic, inorganic, physical and analytical) in an integrated manner, focusing on its application in industries such as the pharmaceutical, forensic or environmental science sectors.

HNDs are offered mostly by colleges and sometimes by other institutions such as universities or independent training providers. Mainly classroom taught, the assessments tend to be based on projects, presentations and practical tasks rather than traditional exams. You may also be expected to complete work placements or might be working in a relevant job alongside studying for this qualification.

Length of study

It takes two years of full-time study to complete, or three to four years part-time, and will have a strong vocational element to give you the practical skills for a career in chemistry.

Entry requirements

Typically a minimum of two Scottish Highers, or one-to-two A-levels, or an HNC, BTEC or equivalent.

What next?

With an HND in chemistry you can enter applied and technical roles such as a QA technologist, an analytical chemist, and more specialist roles such as a clean water scientific officer. Or take a ‘top-up’ course to extend it into a full bachelor’s degree.

Foundation Degree (FdSc)

A foundation degree in chemistry is intended to provide a more employment focused qualification. Designed by employers and universities they seek to provide the knowledge and skills that employers look for. It carries the same weight as two-thirds of a bachelor’s degree and is equivalent to a Higher National Diploma (HND) or Diploma of Higher Education (see below) at Level 5.

Length of study

Completing a foundation degree full time will usually take two years, with part-time courses lasting around four years. They are designed to combine practical work-based learning with study. The qualification is often favoured by students who want to work and study at the same time or prefer learning in an applied style. Find out more about how you can earn while you learn.

Entry requirements

Generally, you are will need either A-levels, BTECs, HNC or equivalents but entry levels tend to be lower than for many bachelor’s degree courses. Also formal qualifications are not always necessary; commercial or industrial experience may be accepted. You will need to find out from each institution, as they set their own entry criteria - What Uni is a good place to start.

What next?

With a foundation degree you can enter applied and technical roles such as an associate scientist, as well as more specialised roles or go on to complete a full bachelor’s honours degree.

Bachelor’s Degree (BSc)

A bachelor’s degree (BSc) is the most common undergraduate qualification, with hundreds of chemical science courses available across the UK. It is a level 6 qualification in the UK, and level 9 or 10 in Scotland, depending on whether it is a BSc with Honours. Studying for a BSc at university will give you an in-depth understanding of chemical science.

Length of study

It usually takes four years of full-time study to complete a degree in Scotland or three to four in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Many institutions include the option to spend a year in industry or study abroad.

Entry requirements

Generally based on grades at Scottish Highers, A-levels, BTECs or equivalents.

What next?

Obtaining a bachelor’s degree, level 6 qualification or SCQF level 9/10 in Scotland allows you to apply for a broad range of jobs or enrol in postgraduate study. With qualifications at these levels you can enter technical and applied roles as well as more research-focused and other graduate or postgraduate level roles.

Integrated Master’s Degree (MChem)

An integrated Master’s degree combines undergraduate and postgraduate study into a single course. These courses are usually prefixed with an ‘M’, for example MChem. The Integrated Master’s degree is normally identical to the equivalent undergraduate course but provides the opportunity to explore a subject in greater detail by offering an additional year of study, enabling you to graduate with a more specialised qualification. It is a level 7 qualification in the UK, or 11 in Scotland.

Length of study

It typically lasts four to five years – depending on where you study and whether you undertake a sandwich year with a work placement. In Scotland an Integrated Master’s Degree is typically five years.

Entry requirements

Similar to a bachelor’s degree (see above) but you will need to complete the full bachelor’s degree before continuing your course for an additional year in a related subject. 

What next?

Obtaining an integrated master’s degree allows you to apply for a broad range of jobs or enrol in postgraduate study. With qualifications at these levels you can enter technical and applied roles as well as more research-focused and other graduate or postgraduate level roles. With a Royal Society of Chemistry accredited MChem Chemistry degree you will have the academic requirements for admission to Associate Membership of the Royal Society of Chemistry (AMRSC) and, after some professional experience, the award of CChem (Chartered Chemist) for graduates with a first or second class honours degree.

Look out for degree programmes that have been accredited by the Royal Society of Chemistry. Accreditation is a sign that the requirements of the chemical sciences profession, employers and students are being met through a course. An accredited degree will also give you automatic entry of the Royal Society of Chemistry at Associate level (AMRSC). Find out more about how to choose a degree.

Additional HE qualifications:

Certificate of Higher Education (CertHE) and Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE)

These qualifications are usually awarded if you leave a degree before completing your studies. The CertHE is a level 4 qualification or SCQF (Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework) level 7 and is gained if you leave your first year successfully. The DipHE is a level 5 qualification or SQCF level 8 in Scotland and is awarded if you leave after finishing two years successfully. They are available as stand-alone qualifications in a few instances and would be suitable to students who prefer to study a shorter course.

Length of study

One year for a CertHE or two years for a DipHE of full-time study at a university or other higher education institution.

Entry requirements

You will need to check with the institution if you are interested in a stand-alone qualification, for example the Open University DipHE in chemistry does not require formal qualifications.

What next?

With a CertHE or a DipHE you can continue on to further study or enter both scientific and non-scientific jobs. The logical, reasoned approach needed for science study is relevant to a wide range of financial, business and public sector employment.

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